Blog Archives

Welcome to the Total Football Cafe

My new website www.nathannipper.com is now live.  There you will also find my new soccer blog Total Football Cafe.  My blog content is moving permanently to the new site so I hope you will migrate there along with me and continue reading and posting your comments!

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How to Get Out of Work to Watch the U.S. v. Germany Game Tomorrow

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There is only one universally recognized diagnosable illness that can garner one an excused absence from work without a doctor’s note. That illness is of course, footballitis. As you can see from this Adidas ad circa World Cup 2002, it is an illness that affects one mentally and physically which means you’re going to be utterly useless at your workplace if you have it.

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No worker with footballitis can be expected to adequately concentrate on any task with a match as big as U.S. v. Germany going on. If you think you might have footballitis, the responsible thing to do is stay home from work tomorrow and watch U.S./Germany. It’s vital for your health; after all, there is no cure for footballitis. You can only hope to manage the symptoms and the only way to do that is to not do anything important like your job and just watch the U.S. play Germany.

Contemplating those affected by footballitis...

Contemplating those affected by footballitis…

So there you go, it’s simple: call in sick with footballitis tomorrow. Your employer will surely understand, and if they don’t, do you really want to be working at a place insensitive to the hazards of footballitis anyway?

Feel free to share your methods for coping with footballitis below…

And if you need a way to help pass the time until kickoff tomorrow, check out my brand new non-fiction book Dallas ‘Til I Cry:  Learning to Love Major League Soccer, now available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle e-book versions.

Shea it ain’t so, Brek!

Brek Shea will be missed in Dallas

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Brek Shea has been the face of FC Dallas the past two seasons, but now he plays for Stoke City.  I’m glad for Shea.  It’s always good to see American players get a shot in the perceived top league in the world.  But since I just bought an FC Dallas season ticket a few weeks ago, this is not welcome news.

I first saw Shea play in person in 2010, the season he made his first professional start and really came into his own for FC Dallas.  He almost immediately caught my eye as a special player.  It wasn’t just the flashy shock of ultra blonde hair.  He hustled his tail off and wasn’t afraid to run with the ball at opponents.  He had height, strength, speed, and all-important feistiness.  He could scoot around the edges and get passes across the box or get shots off when other players would have lost possession.  He spent that 2010 season under the radar and I shared FC Dallas fans’ pride of recognizing potential that the wider world hadn’t fully noticed yet.  I even called my younger brother and soccer confidant Dan to tell him about this Brek Shea and how he could be on the national team someday.

Shea and FC Dallas made it to their first and only MLS Cup Final in 2010 where they lost to Colorado.  By the start of 2011, the cat was out of the bag with Shea and opponents started marking him tightly.  It was a tougher season for him (and FC Dallas), yet he was still a standout and a finalist for the league’s MVP.  Buzz began building about him.  In the offseason, he got to train for a few weeks at Arsenal.  FC Dallas wisely signed him on through 2015.  By the start of last season, the media spotlight on Shea was blinding.  Even in Dallas he was becoming a household name (okay, still mostly just among us soccer nerds).  US National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann jumped on board the Brek train too, granting Shea several consecutive caps.

Then the 2012 MLS season got under way and Shea fizzled on field.  A turf toe injury sidelined him for several weeks.  I actually observed him up close as he was nearing recovery from that injury when he participated in a demonstration drill run by FC Dallas Head Coach Schellas Hyndman at Hyndman’s annual clinic for local coaches.  I was impressed and surprised that Shea turned up for the demo – something he certainly wasn’t obligated to do on such a hot May afternoon.  The demo was a mix of academy players and FC Dallas reserve players, but Shea played as hard as if he were trying to earn a starting spot.  Afterwards he affably hung around to chat with coaches and pose for photos.  He certainly didn’t appear too overwhelmed by stardom that day.

Shea continued struggling with injuries throughout 2012, but even when he was in the lineup he couldn’t recover his near-MVP form from 2011.  Fans grumbled impatiently.  Brek and Hyndman got into a spat on NBC when Hyndman benched him late during a contentious match at San Jose.  Shea the wonder boy suddenly seemed mentally and physically drained.

Now it looks like the business side of soccer has reared its necessary and sometimes ugly head with Dallas apparently eager to cash in on Stoke City’s interest in the 22-year-old Shea.  Shea was a rare rising star for Dallas, a real potential franchise player.  I had a feeling it would just be a matter of time before a bigger club snatched him up – Dallas is too small a club to retain stars for very long.  The only real surprise is why now?  Shea had such a dismal 2012 MLS season that I was confident he would be in Dallas at least through 2013.  I was really looking forward to this being a comeback season for Brek.

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I should have been suspicious when Zach Loyd began featuring a bit more than Shea in FC Dallas’ promotional efforts toward the end of last season.  Considering that and the rift between Hyndman and Shea, the writing has likely been on the wall for several months.  I wish Dallas would splash the Stoke cash they get for Shea on a replacement star, someone for season ticket holders like myself to get jazzed about.  But I won’t hold my breath.

It’s a catch-22 for American soccer fans when deals like this come along.  On one hand, you want to see U.S. players get opportunities in the world’s top league – it’s great for their development, enhances our national team, and improves American soccer’s reputation.  On the other hand it highlights where MLS falls in the pecking order of the world’s soccer leagues.  It seems difficult enough (particularly in a market like Dallas) to get fans to support MLS teams that actually have an American star or two, much less when those stars get shipped to more prestigious European leagues.

I wish Shea all the best at Stoke City.  This FC Dallas fan will definitely miss him.

Your thoughts on Shea’s transfer to Stoke City?

Red, White & Blues Roundup

Thoughts on last week’s big matches for U.S., Chelsea, and FC Dallas

There is a reason this blog has been mute this week, even as my three main teams were in action.  And it’s not a pleasant reason.  I’m calling out Time Warner Cable as the worst TV/internet provider in these United States!  My cable went out first.  It was gone for a week, forcing me to watch the Chelsea/Newcastle match at my non-soccer-fan in-laws house.  But thank goodness they have Fox Soccer!  And their big screen isn’t too shabby either.  My Time Warner internet “service” was also out during the cable outage.  Services were restored for a week, then this past Monday Time Warner decided they hadn’t quite scared me away as a customer so they knocked out my internet for another week.  They finally showed up to repair it Friday night.

Then yesterday, just to kick me while I’m down, Time Warner inexplicably pulled the plug on Fox Soccer Channel in the 67th minute of the Chelsea/QPR match!  The horror!  I think that was actually worst than not having cable at all because I didn’t have time to crash my in-laws for the game.  Of course, Time Warner finally restored Fox Soccer a couple hours later, but the damage to my fanhood had already been done.  Time Warner, you are a truly terrible service!  I will be dropping them as my cable/internet provider as soon as possible!

Now back to this week’s soccer action…

First, it was a great, relieving win for the U.S. over Jamaica Tuesday night.  The U.S. looked encouraging in the first half, rattling the post three times.  I started to get that uneasy feeling you get when your team is dominating but can’t quite find the net.  But Hercules Gomez finally created some breathing room with his amazing free kick in the second half.  The U.S. should’ve had more, and they allowed some nerve-wracking moments during the final ten minutes, but the three points were secured and hope is thankfully alive again for World Cup qualification.

“Herculez! Herculez!”

The Chelsea/QPR game was a scrappy one – at least the 67 minutes of it Time Warner allowed me to see.  It ended up a scoreless draw, so at least Chelsea retains first place in the league this week.  It wasn’t a great offensive Blues performance.  Torres was back to his thumb-twiddling ways up top.  Ramires was much weaker than usual.  Hazard continues to be pretty great though.  If his teammates learn to link up with him, Chelsea will generate a lot of goals this season.

Hazardous to defenses (I know, I know. I had to do it just this once.).

On the home front, I was at FC Dallas Stadium last night for the next-to-last FCD home game of the season.  It was a must-win match for FCD against Vancouver Whitecaps if Dallas has any hope of making the playoffs.  The play was extremely physical, the refereeing atrocious, and Dallas’ strike force woefully lacking in urgency (Blas Perez and Brek Shea looked downright lethargic).  The score remained 0-0 until the 96th minute when Julian De Guzman rocketed in one of the shots of the season.  Just minutes earlier I had lamented in my mind that De Guzman had done nothing of note since his arrival in Dallas a few months ago.  I’ve repented of that lament.  The crowd exploded after De Guzman’s amazing goal and it was probably the most exciting MLS match moment I’ve ever experienced in person.

The U.S. men and FC Dallas are off for a while, but Chelsea has a big week ahead with Juventus on Tuesday in Champions League action and Stoke visiting on Saturday.  Good times!

What was your favorite soccer moment this week?

Post-All Star Game Thoughts

MLS All-Stars beat Chelsea 3-2

They’re still in preseason.  They’re still in preseason.  They’re still in preseason.  That’s what I’ve had to keep telling myself about Chelsea since the loss last night to the MLS All-Stars in Philadelphia.  Actually, it wasn’t a poor Chelsea performance.  And the All-Stars weren’t particularly starry.  It was a decent game with a decent number of scoring chances for both teams.  Still, I’d rather Chelsea have won.

Michael Essien was on fire last night.  He looked like the pre-2011-injury Essien (which is a good thing).  Perhaps he is just now fully recovered from the knee injury that wrecked half of last season for him.  Or, perhaps he was just a man on a mission to show Di Matteo that he can still take care of business in midfield.  Regardless, he looked great and made a tremendous case for himself.  His was aggressive and fast on defense.  His passes were back to their old accuracy.  It was great to see.

For all the talk about Chelsea’s supposed youth revolution this summer, look who scored the Blues’ goals last night – Terry and Lampard.  These guys just keep on ticking.  I don’t know how many more seasons they’ve got left in them, but as long as they keep contributing like this, it’s hard to think about replacing them.

New Blues Marko Marin and Eden Hazard didn’t quite click with the team last night.  Marin held onto the ball a little too long in the box on several occasions when a quicker shot or pass might’ve been the better option.  Unfortunately, Hazard simply didn’t get many opportunities to show his stuff when he came on in the second half.

Lukaku’s effort was decent.  I’d like to see him pull the trigger on shots more often.  He could be a little more selfish with the ball in front of goal.  And we still haven’t gotten a good look at his heading ability.  But overall he had a better game than he did against PSG.

One of the trickiest aspects of Di Matteo’s job this summer will be figuring out what the best combination of players is, particularly in midfield.  That job is even harder with some key guys like Mata and Sturridge currently busy at the Olympics.  I thought the first half offensive group (Lampard, Essien, Benayoun, Ramires, Marin, Lukaku) significantly outperformed the second half group (Mikel, Meireles, Hazard, Piazon, Malouda, De Bruyne).

Last night’s loss was disappointing because you want to see your team dominate in preseason.  But it’s not that big a deal.  There is a still lot of preseason yet to go.  The team is already in Miami for their final U.S. Tour stop where they’ll play A.C. Milan on Saturday.

Your thoughts on Chelsea’s performance last night?

All Star Blues

Chelsea takes on MLS All-Stars tonight

I’m looking forward to Chelsea’s big clash against the MLS All-Stars tonight.  Should be a pretty close game.  Sounds like Di Matteo may let several players go the full 90.  Doesn’t look like Torres will play tonight at all though.  You can hear some of Di Matteo’s and Lampard’s comments about the match and MLS’ development here.

Philadelphia’s PPL Park, site of tonight’s Chelsea v. MLS All-Stars match.

The big player news of the day involves… whom else?  Oscar the Brazilian Wonder Kid of course!  Chelsea has officially confirmed the 18-year-old’s signing.  Increasingly, this is shaping up to be a torch-passing season for Chelsea between the veteran Blues and the brand new youngsters.  Chelsea haven’t played it safe with their signings this summer.  The moves have definitely been made with an eye toward the long-term future.

One of Chelsea’s brand new youngsters, Kevin De Bruyne, may be headed on loan to Bundesliga club Werder Bremen for this season.  De Bruyne showed a lot of life in Chelsea’s first preseason game against the Sounders, though he was less visible in the PSG game.  With so many midfielders to choose from, sending De Bruyne on loan may be the first of many tough personnel decisions Di Matteo has to make over the next few weeks.

Good to see Chelsea has gotten into the spirit of Philadelphia with some Rocky-style training ahead of the big game tonight.  Don’t forget to watch the Blues versus MLS All-Stars on ESPN2!

Who do you hope to see play for Chelsea tonight?

Yo, Fernando!

Torres joins Chelsea teammates in Philadelphia

Fernando Torres returned from his post-Euro 2012 vacay yesterday, getting back to work with Chelsea as they prepare for the MLS All-Star game tomorrow night.  MLS.com has video coverage of Chelsea’s training yesterday and here’s a brief video update from the team’s training today.  Torres is not expected to play until Saturday’s match in Miami against AC Milan.

Today Chelsea officially announced that they’ve signed Eden Hazard’s younger brother Thorgan.  If things work out for these young Blues brothers, we could be making Hazardous puns for years to come.

Oscar the Brazilian Wonder Kid must have an amazing agent because Oscar has somehow managed to be in the headlines for nearly two weeks in a row.  Signs continue to point toward this deal happening, perhaps as early as Friday.

How excited is Philadelphia about hosting the Chelsea v. MLS All-Stars match tomorrow night?  Judging by the Philadelphia Inquirer Sports home page, less-than-thrilled.  Though the game’s a little over 24 hours away, there’s not a single item about it on the home page!

What do you think of the Thorgan Hazard signing?

City of Brotherly Blues

Chelsea head to Philadelphia for MLS All-Star Game

Chelsea tied Paris St. Germain 1-1 in last night’s match at Yankee Stadium.  It was a ho-hum game for the most part – not bad by any means, just a little stuck in lower gear.  PSG was definitely a step up competition-wise from the Sounders game.  Some better finishing might’ve garnered Chelsea the victory, but it was still a good battle back to tie the game.  Today the team travels by train to Philadelphia for Wednesday’s clash with MLS All-Stars.

I still like the promise displayed by Hazard and Marin in last night’s game.  They could make a big impact for Chelsea this season.  I was less impressed with Lukaku and De Bruyne last night than against Seattle.  Hutchinson also looked a little shaky on defense and too hasty with several passes.  I wish McEachran had seen more of the ball when he came on in the second half.  I also wish Malouda would regain his former sharpness in the final third.  He had one of Chelsea’s best scoring opps of the match but smacked it directly at PSG’s keeper.

But these are small criticisms considering it’s preseason with lots of player rotation.  And considering there are so many young players on this tour.  Speaking of – how ‘bout 18-year-old Brazilian Lucas Piazon’s second half goal?  Ramires (also Brazilian!) slipped Piazon the sweet pass that led to the goal.  Earlier in the game I complained aloud about this whippersnapper Piazon who seems to have a penchant for trying to dribble around defenders instead of passing.  Equalizing goals have a penchant for shutting me up.  Piazon’s probably too young to earn a spot with Chelsea this season, but perhaps we glimpsed a bright future Blue last night.

Today’s Oscar the Brazilian Wonder Kid update swings back in the direction of him actually joining Chelsea.  What that means is, nobody really knows for sure.

There are a couple items today about expensive German club players that Chelsea has tried to get – Andre Schurrle of Bayer Leverkusen and Robert Lewandowski of Borussia Dortmund.  That’s the downside of being one of the world’s moneybags clubs, everyone tries to fleece you.

There’s also much chat today about Frank Lampard’s potential MLS future.  I think it’s a non-story.  The guy is committed to Chelsea to the end of his contract.  Sounds like he answered reporters honestly after last night’s game because his future beyond this season really is up to Chelsea.  They may decide not to renew, but I think that would be the only scenario that would send Lamps to MLS.  By the way, if that does happen, FC Dallas wants you Frank!*

*I have no authority to speak on behalf of FC Dallas.  But I’m inviting you to join the club anyway!

Your thoughts on the Chelsea/PSG match last night?

Big Apple Blues

Chelsea makes second stop on U.S. tour

Chelsea arrived in New York City yesterday to prep for their Sunday match against aspiring super club Paris St. Germain.  Before making it out of Seattle, the players enjoyed an impromptu runway training session while waiting out a flight delay.

Much of the deal news this week revolved around Chelsea possibly signing Oscar the Brazilian Wonder Kid.  It seemed like a done deal, but now Oscar’s back pedaling.  He confirmed he had a physical with the Chelsea folk, but says he won’t make a decision about his future until after the Olympics.  This kind of intrigue is always amusing and predictable.  I’m sure there’s an agent behind the scenes advising Oscar to be cryptic to ensure continued headlines for a couple more weeks.  Anyways, you often can’t tell these deals are final until you actually see the player suited up on the sideline.

Another Brazilian in the news this week was Willian.  His club Shakhtar Donetsk supposedly rejected a Chelsea bid for the attacking midfielder earlier this week.  Now Willian’s making no bones about his desire to bolt Shak Don for Chelsea.

It’s anyone’s guess how the Oscar, Willian, or Victor Moses deals will go down (or won’t go down)!  One thing’s for sure – it will be an interesting few weeks leading up to the Chelsea v. Manchester City Community Shield match which unofficially kicks off the new season on August 12th.

I’m looking forward to the Chelsea v. Paris St. Germain friendly at Yankee Stadium tomorrow.  Fox Soccer will be carrying the match live.  Should be an energetic game and unique atmosphere.  The baseball stadium atmosphere is apparently appealing to a lot of U.S. fans this summer – check out what tickets are selling for

Who would you rather see land at Chelsea – Oscar, Willian, or Moses?

CFC to NYC

Chelsea wraps up Seattle leg of U.S. tour

 

Chelsea had one more training session this morning in Seattle before hopping a plane bound for New York City.  The club faces their former manager Carlo Ancelotti and his current team Paris St. Germain in another preseason friendly Sunday.  It will be the first ever soccer match to be played at the new Yankee Stadium.

While the team trains and tours in the U.S., the deal making for new players continues in London.  Here is the latest rumor rundown:

Coach Di Matteo confirmed the club is in talks to get Victor Moses from Wigan.  Apparently Wigan wants several more buckets of cash than Chelsea has offered so far.  I can take or leave this deal.  Chelsea certainly shouldn’t overpay for him.  A better striker option would be checking to see if Newcastle’s Demba Ba or Papiss Cisse have any brothers in Senegal.

Thorgan Hazard may become a Chelsea player within a day or two, but nothing official from Chelsea yet.  If the deal goes through, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fairly quickly loaned to another Premier League club given he’s only 19-years-old and Chelsea has a very packed roster right now.

Chelsea may be after Marseille’s 22-year-old Spanish right-back Cesar Azpilicueta.  Chelsea could use some back line bolstering, so this deal could be interesting.  I bet there’s going to be a whole lotta soccer wheeling and dealing going on with all these under-23 national teams in London for the Olympics!

Check out this New York Times story exploring why some of America’s most famous baseball stadiums are hosting big international soccer club matches this summer.  Wondering how a soccer pitch is going to work in Yankee Stadium?  Check out the diagram below and these photos of the pitch being prepared.

Apparently starring in a classic soccer comedy like Kicking & Screaming (I’m not being sarcastic – I actually think that movie’s hilarious) affords you lifetime access to Chelsea FC.  Check out Blues fan Will Ferrell and comedian Zach Galifianakis chillin’ with Chelsea (and with the European Cup) in Seattle yesterday.

I particularly like the random autographed St. Louis Rams helmet Will and Zach apparently gave Chelsea.  I have no idea why it was a Rams helmet, but it’s pretty vintage Will Ferrell.  Good times!

Thoughts on the potential Moses, Thorgan Hazard, or Azpilicueta deals?